When Warner Bros. Discovery canceled the release of Batgirl, it was a shocking move to many. But there are other movies and TV shows that have likewise gained infamy due to never seeing the light of day.
The vast majority of axed Hollywood projects are run-of-the-mill concepts that simply didn’t work out or eventually find their way online. That’s not the case with these titles. The below roundup of films and TV series features projects you cannot see anywhere that have achieved a level of notoriety — either due to their scandalous content or because fans desperately want to see them (or both).
Here are the most legendary of the unseen.
In an era where so many mediocre projects are put onto streaming services with a “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” mentality, the decision to write-down a fully shot $90 million live–action Batman-verse movie instead of releasing it on HBO Max was hugely surprising — especially given the optics of ditching a DC superhero project that starred Dominican actress Leslie Grace. “It’s an incredibly bad look to cancel the Latina Batgirl movie,” noted comic book kingpin Kevin Smith. Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav defended the decision, suggesting that the film, from directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, would harm DC’s brand: “We’re not going to launch a movie until it’s ready. We’re not going to launch a movie to make a quarter, and we’re not going to put a movie out unless we believe in it. … We’re going to focus on quality.”
This 2021 NBC reality show wanted to be like Wipe Out and instead turned into Squid Game. Adult contestants competed on giant versions of kids’ backyard games like Human Pong, Body Bowling, Cornhole and Slip ‘N Slide — whose manufacturer, Wham-O, was a sponsor. But contestants found themselves slippin’ and slidin’ face-first into giardia parasites due to a reported outbreak of “explosive diarrhea” on the watery set. The show was planned for a choice slot following the Summer Olympics closing ceremony, but the snickering viral news reports were a PR nightmare for the network and for Wham-O. Ultimately, NBC crapped out on releasing it.
The 1990 cult hit horror film Tremors has spawned six sequels, and original star Kevin Bacon didn’t return for any of them. Yet Bacon did return to that sandworm-infested small town for a 2018 Syfy TV pilot that was scrapped and never released. “We made an excellent pilot outside of Albuquerque, recreated the town, had a really great cast, director, and writer and to this day I still don’t understand why they didn’t want to move forward with it,” a bewildered Bacon told Dread Central in 2020. “It’s a real head-scratcher for me. If I honestly thought the pilot was shit then I’d say ‘we just didn’t crack it.’” (Instead, Syfy picked up to series a rival pilot, Deadly Class, which only lasted one season). As one Tremors fan ranted on Reddit, “How are there 19 shitty Tremors movie sequels, but this doesn’t get picked up by at least a streaming service?”
Most projects listed here are single episodes or a feature film. What’s notable about Star Wars: Detours is that there were 39 shortform episodes completed (and 62 additional scripts written), and yet the series has still never been released (aside from one episode that leaked online). The show is an animated effort from Robot Chicken creators Seth Green and Matthew Senreich that was officially announced at Star Wars Celebration in 2012. But Detours hit a detour of its own when Disney shelved the project after the company acquired Lucasfilm a few months later.
“The most recent conversations I’ve had with anybody who would be in a position to say so say that it’s not soon,” Green told EW in 2021. “The way it’s been explained to me is that there hasn’t been enough interest high enough up to go through what it would take to put it out, and that there isn’t an interest in releasing this content on Disney+ from Lucasfilm.”
There’s been no reason given for the project’s scuttling, but one assumes the fact that Detours was a parody of the Star Wars franchise might have something to do with it. “I don’t really have an emotional position [to the series being scrapped] because I got to spend four straight years making something with George Lucas,” Green added. “I got a priceless experience with one of my truest heroes, and got to see him laugh and enjoy all of the things that he had created, in a time before he agreed to sell them to somebody else.”
Seriously, Fox made this: A 2004 reality show where two straight men compete to see who can pass themselves off more convincingly as gay for a $50,000 reward. Each was paired with a trio of coaches and their competitions included swimsuit modeling, making a “gay face” and convincing a date to spank them. The show’s press release had this super-cringe concept description: “A heterosexual male’s worst nightmare: turning gay overnight.” One of the show’s creative consultants defended the special, telling The Advocate, “Our primary purpose was to be funny, but if people actually got to see the show, they would probably be more tolerant of gay people in the future.” But after considerable pushback from GLAAD and many, many others, Fox apologized and yanked the project from its schedule less than two weeks before it was set to air, citing “creative reasons.”
Did you know that Quentin Tarantino’s first film — which he wrote, directed and acted in — wasn’t Reservoir Dogs and was never released? My Best Friend’s Birthday was a low-budget 1987 comedy shot in black and white that the director made while he was still working at the Video Archives movie rental store in Manhattan Beach. The film was reportedly 70 minutes long and it’s not very good, but it’s full of the director’s characteristic pop culture references. “I was totally embarrassed,” Tarantino told Variety. “So I was like, OK, I don’t have a movie here, this is not She’s Gotta Have It, but I learned a lot doing this. This was my film school.” For years, the story was that half the footage was destroyed in a lab fire. But the book My Best Friend’s Birthday: The Making of a Quentin Tarantino Film claims there wasn’t a fire, but that half the film was lost by accident and Tarantino let the lab fire tale spread because it sounded more interesting (a rep for Tarantino had no comment). The surviving footage is online, but Tarantino’s first film will never be seen in its entirety.
This is a short film, not a feature, but also rather fascinating: Robert Rodriguez directed a sci-fi piece starring John Malkovich as “the protagonist,” Shuya Chang as “the female protagonist” and Marko Zaror as “the antagonist.” Nobody knows what the film is about. It will be released Nov. 18, 2115 — not a typo. So it’s very likely that nobody reading this story will be alive to see the film, which is reportedly kept in a high-tech safe behind bulletproof glass that will open automatically in 93 years. This would all be incredibly cool if not for the fact 100 Years was shot as part of an ad campaign for Remy Martin’s Louis XIII Cognac to promote the idea that it takes 100 years to make a bottle of their liquor. That takes a lot of the artistic intrigue out of the idea and certainly risks disappointing a crowd gathered around the safe in 2115 who discover it only contains a glorified cognac ad and extremely dated CGI. “What John and I wanted it to be was a work of timeless art that can be enjoyed in 100 years,” Rodriguez told IndieWire. “I’m very proud of it even if only my great grandkids and hopefully my clone will be around to watch.” There are also teaser trailers for the project because, one assumes, Remy Martin didn’t want to wait a whole century to get some footage out of this deal.
This unseen 1968 film from legendary comedian Richard Pryor has been the subject of all sorts of reported rumors over the years — including allegations of theft and a pending lawsuit (both untrue). When contacted for fact-checking, the film’s producer and editor, Penelope Spheeris, and Pryor’s widow and estate manager, Jennifer Lee Pryor, wanted to set the record straight on some of the details of its history.
Richard Pryor wrote, directed and starred in Uncle Tom’s Fairy Tales and then shredded its work print (not its negative) after an argument with his wife. The 40-minute film revolves around a group of Black activists who kidnap a wealthy white man and then put him on trial for racial crimes in American history. Some footage still exists — scenes from the film were shown at a Directors Guild of America event honoring the comedian in 2005 — but a full print has never been publicly screened.
Jennifer Pryor recently found some additional footage from the film and, along with Spheeris, began hunting for the original negative, which they suspect is still hidden away in a lab somewhere. “After doing research for five years, the negative exists somewhere,” Spheeris says. “We just don’t know where.”
TV pilots get dumped all the time; it’s more rule than exception. So there’s nothing, in itself, unusual about what happened to Bloodmoon. In this case, the notoriety comes from the fact that Bloodmoon was HBO’s successor project to what was arguably the biggest show of the 21st century, Game of Thrones, and cost more than $30 million — yet, even Thrones author George R.R. Martin has never been allowed to see it. (By the by, the only way a studio can successfully write a project off as a tax break is if it’s never released — and therefore monetized — in any way).
Fans have jumped on every detail about the project, which starred Naomi Watts and was set thousands of years before Thrones. The story has been described as “adult, sophisticated and intelligent” and with “a thematic conversation at the center of it about disenfranchisement in the face of colonialism and religious extremism.” Sources point to a few problems, from casting issues to struggling to create an almost entirely different world than the original show. “Bloodmoon was a very difficult assignment,” Martin told THR. “We’re dealing with a much more primitive people. There were no dragons yet. A lot of the pilot revolved around a wedding of a Southern house to a Northern house, and it got into the whole history of the White Walkers.” Added Robert Greenblatt, who was chairman of HBO’s parent company WarnerMedia: “It wasn’t unwatchable or horrible or anything. It was very well-produced and looked extraordinary. But it didn’t take me to the same place as the original series. It didn’t have that depth and richness that the original series’ pilot did.”
Speaking of which, clearly Thrones pilots are not easy. HBO’s first attempt at Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga ended up being almost entirely reshot. Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have been rather blunt in their assessment of their debut effort. “You listen to how sharply the pitch of somebody’s voice turns up when they tell you it’s good — ‘It’s good!’” recalls Weiss in the book Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon. “How much higher than their average register is the word ‘good.’ That’s a gauge of how fucked you are. Our ‘good’ was in dog-whistle territory.” Producers made some casting changes (most notably swapping Tamzin Merchant for Emilia Clarke in the key role of Daenerys), reworked their script and changed directors (from Thomas McCarthy to The Sopranos veteran Tim Van Patten). A friend of the showrunners, producer Craig Mazin, saw both versions and was stunned by the turnaround. “This is the biggest rescue in Hollywood history,” he said he told Benioff. “You saved a complete piece of shit and turned it into something brilliant. That never happens.” Despite intense fan curiosity, the original pilot has never been released in any form.
Fox reality strikes again! This time, it was not the premise that was the problem, exactly. In 2010’s Our Little Genius, naturally gifted child prodigies competed on a quiz show against highly educated adults. A week before it was set to air, however, creator Mark Burnett raised red flags about his own show, suggesting members of the production team had coached the kids on questions beforehand. While quietly scripting reality TV is routine, interfering with any project that’s classified as a game show is a serious criminal no-no. So Fox put Genius on a pile next to Seriously, Dude, I’m Gay. All that remains is this trailer, and “Oh, come on” indeed.
Slapstick comedian Jerry Lewis’ unfinished and unreleased 1972 film has the entertainer playing a circus clown imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. So the “what went wrong” on this project is already pretty apparent. According to reports, the character performs for Jewish children in the camp, gets beaten and eventually ends up leading children to their deaths in the gas chamber, trying to keep them distracted in their final moments.
Lewis realized he had a potential disaster on his hands and halted the film from being released, telling EW in 2013, “You will never see it. No one will ever see it, because I am embarrassed at the poor work.”
The Simpsons voice actor Harry Shearer has seen a cut and told Spy magazine in 1992: “Seeing this film was really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presence of a perfect object. This was a perfect object. This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is. ‘Oh, My God!’— that’s all you can say.” Yet a French film critic who also saw a copy, Jean-Michel Frodon, had an entirely different take, telling Vanity Fair in 2017: “I’m convinced it is a very good job. It’s a very interesting and important film, very daring about both the issue, which of course is the Holocaust, but even beyond that as a story of a man who has dedicated his life to making people laugh and is questioning what it is to make people laugh. I think it is a very bitter film, and a disturbing film, and this is why it was so brutally dismissed by those people who saw it.”
In 2015, a couple years before he died, Lewis donated a copy of the film to the Library of Congress, but on the condition that it won’t be screened until 2024.